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One Flew over the Cuckoo's nest.How does Kesey present McMurphy's growing influence on the ward and hint at the novel's conclusion in the passage 'the vote is closed'...'crazy as loons' (p162-5)?

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Introduction

How does Kesey present McMurphy's growing influence on the ward and hint at the novel's conclusion in the passage 'the vote is closed'...'crazy as loons' (p162-5)? This passage focuses on McMurphy obtaining the deciding vote from the Chief on watching the 'ball game' and then the patients watching the 'blanked out TV'. It is crucial in the plot of the novel because it shows the first successful communal resistance against the nurse, but is also, I think, one of the more subtly written sections of the book. We can start to gauge Mac's growing influence by looking at the Chief's reaction to him. Bromden first comes into the passage as McMurphy tries to gain the last vote. The Chief's hand is described initially as moving inexorably on 'hidden wires'. This is highly reminiscent of his description of the Combine - e.g. machines 'hidden in the walls' - and hints, I think, at a truth the Chief is unwilling to admit (shown by the retraction of his statement: 'No, that's not the truth.'): that Mac's growing influence seems very much like that which the Nurse (previously the controller of the 'hidden' machines in the wall) ...read more.

Middle

The Nurse's speech is particularly interesting. The progression of her vocabulary is one of assurance to desperation, moving from 'The vote is closed' to 'the voting is closed' to 'the meeting was closed' - a flurry of semantics to enforce her rule by changing what she meant. 'The meeting was closed' of course contains an implicit admission of defeat, and shows that McMurphy has turned even her own meeting against her. Her speech at the miscreants is similarly characterised by desperation: the flummoxed pauses ('...'), the resorting to her position rather than her native wit ('jurisdiction and control') and finally abandoning reason altogether, using the imperative 'you men - Stop this', showing also her failure to appreciate the group dynamics by addressing them as a collective, not as the individuals she was so adept at breaking down. Kesey stops reporting her speech after this by referring to her 'hollering and squealing'. Such words remind us of pigs and could be seen to dehumanise the Nurse, but I would suggest they do something else; that in getting angry, getting overridden by an emotion, the Nurse does in fact show herself to be more human, less mechanic. ...read more.

Conclusion

The clauses are very cleverly shortened here - first 'and gets him a chair' is removed, then 'goes', finally even 'then' is taken away, leaving everyone to come at once. McMurphy's influence is seen as stronger than the Nurse's now though because he needn't even give the prompt of the book and doesn't abuse the power he has to humiliate his fellow patients. Yet even at this point, the zenith of McMurphy's power, there are hints at his downfall, his conclusion. The most obvious, of course, is not being able to watch the game. In this we see a victory, but only because of its failure. In the same way McMurphy's death frees the patients, but at the cost of his own freedom, and just as it was the switching off of the TV that rallied the troops, so it was McMurphy's death, not life, that finally galvanised them into action. The Nurse also gives him a 'warning', but this is not really very sinister until she gets her act together in the next part of the novel. This passage is, I believe, one of the best in the book. It works on a highly symbolic level and is pivotal in McMurphy's political advances against the Combine. Michael O'Neill ...read more.

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